Six University of Iowa first-generation college students will go abroad this fall with support from the Leona Zaharis Scholarship, a fund that was established in 2022 by Cathy Zaharis (BBA finance ’82) in memory of her mother.
Cathy’s mother, Leona, never went to college, but she made it a priority to explore the world. Cathy wanted to give University of Iowa students the opportunity to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Meet the recipients:
Ella Cadena is a second-year psychology major from Kalona, Iowa. Ella will be studying on the TEAN Australia: Bond University program.
"To me, the Leona Zaharis Scholarship means encouraging those who have a passion for traveling and seeing the world to do so."
“I have always been interested in traveling to Australia and this program seemed like the perfect opportunity! I am excited to make new friends and study at a beautiful university that emphasizes student experience.
I think studying abroad will allow me to connect with new people that will open up many personal and professional opportunities. I hope to learn more about different cultural perspectives within psychology that will benefit my future career, as well as making lifelong connections.
To me, the Leona Zaharis Scholarship means encouraging those who have a passion for traveling and seeing the world to do so. I think the scholarship helps students see the world, understanding that there is always much more to see and experience.”
Caitlyn Hesselman is a fourth-year English and creative writing major from Storm Lake, Iowa. Caitlyn will be studying at the Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul, South Korea.
"The Leona Zaharis Scholarship to me means opportunity."
“I chose this program based on how amazing the classes and professors are at this school, and to explore Seoul more! I am very excited to take new and different writing courses and explore South Korea!
Studying abroad will help me open up more to trying new things. I can't wait to meet new people and study on a new campus! This opportunity will help me learn more about myself and to learn how to take more chances and try new things.
The Leona Zaharis Scholarship to me means opportunity. It allows me to go and travel and get the chance to learn more about myself, my writing, and the world. It is giving me the opportunity to take the chance and travel, and I will always be thankful for that.”
Kyle McClun is a third-year finance major from Southington, Connecticut. Kyle will be studying on the Wells College Florence: Lorenzo di Medici program in Florence, Italy.
"As a first-generation student, receiving the Leona Zaharis Scholarship was a big blessing in my life."
“I chose to study in Italy to further my passion of learning the Italian language (which I have been studying at Iowa for the past year), and I chose the Lorenzo di Medici program specifically for its central location in Florence as well as its great offering of cultural experiences like a trip to Venice and a trip to the Grape Festival in Impruneta. This will be my first time outside of the United States, so I am looking forward to making the most of it by engrossing myself in the local culture in every possible way by sightseeing, interacting with locals, and experiencing the fantastic food culture Italy is known for.
I personally believe that getting out of your comfort zone and interacting with different cultures is one of the most important things a person can do to expand their empathy and way of thinking. Growing up, I have lived in California, Iowa, and Connecticut before I turned 18, and have also visited 35 out of the 50 states. Getting to know different cultures within the U.S. has shaped many of my own worldviews and interest. Studying abroad will give me a more global mindset by viewing ways of life and worldviews very different than the ones we are accustomed to here in the U.S. It will also be a great opportunity for me to learn how to interact with people internationally and further improve my communication skills.
As a first-generation student, receiving the Leona Zaharis Scholarship was a big blessing in my life. Before receiving this award, I was worried about if I could justify going abroad in the first place. However, knowing there were fantastic individuals like Leona Zaharis who wanted students like me to experience study abroad gave me a huge boost of confidence and assurance that this trip was meant to be. I cannot express my gratitude enough as to how grateful I am to be a recipient of this scholarship.”
Victor Morales is a first-year pre-business major from Iowa City, Iowa. Victor will be studying abroad in Lisbon on the CIEE Portugal program.
"The Leona Zaharis Scholarship gets me one step closer to getting to Lisbon and will give me a new experience in my life."
“I chose this program because I believe that in order to learn and understand something you have to put yourself in that environment, so by going to Portugal it will help me practice Portuguese. I am excited about the traveling I will be doing and hope to travel around Portugal and look at all the culture they have.
Studying abroad in Portugal will be crucial for my future because I will be one step closer to becoming fluent in Portuguese and this will open lots of job opportunities for me in the future.
The Leona Zaharis Scholarship gets me one step closer to getting to Lisbon and will give me a new experience in my life. I have never been to Europe, but it has always been a dream of mine to go, and I think by going on this trip I will get to learn new things about myself and see a new side of life.”
Cielo Posateri is a second-year student majoring in English and creative writing and international relations. Cielo is from Taylor Ridge, Illinois, and will study on the ISEP Direct Enroll Program at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"...obtaining this scholarship is a huge honor in that I get to uphold the belief in love, family, and home, while simultaneously satiating my hunger for adventure during my time in this blessed, short life."
“I chose this program for three main reasons: 1) as a Hispanic woman from a very small town, I have always craved the world, and to feel more connected with my language and Latin brothers and sisters. For pete’s sake, my Spanish nickname is ‘Blancita;’ 2) Argentina offers a wide array of global and law courses, giving me the opportunity to fulfill my major with new insights in another country; 3) I hope to build connections abroad to aid in my journey to becoming an international lawyer. Also, I am so very excited to go abroad to Argentina for a myriad of reasons, but the food, culture, and sense of community are definitely the factors that remind me how truly lucky I am to experience these adventures.
I believe my study abroad experience will only serve to benefit me – blessing me with a new understanding of perspective, love, and human nature. I hope to create life-long companions that I may cherish and visit and create a foot-in-the-door towards my career. I believe it to be a fantastic opportunity to speak with law professors and global figures who will guide me toward my goals and mentor me on how to achieve them.
Serendipitously enough, I have had the good fortune to have attended a course taught by Leona’s daughter, Cathy Zaharis, whom I also had the chance to have a one-on-one meeting with. She is a very good human with a passion for educating. I remember walking out of that meeting with a smile plastered all over my face. So, to me, obtaining this scholarship is a huge honor in that I get to uphold the belief in love, family, and home, while simultaneously satiating my hunger for adventure during my time in this blessed, short life. Much like Leona Zaharis.”
Joseph Seo is a third-year computer science major from Decorah, Iowa. Joseph will be studying at the Oslo Metropolitan University in Oslo, Norway.
"Learning about Leona Zaharis's story was very inspiring, and I want to be able to explore the world just like she did."
“My hometown, Decorah, has roots in Norwegian culture and I always loved going to our annual Nordic Fest. This made me take an interest in Norwegian culture. Norway also has lots of outdoor activities and I'm a big fan of hiking, climbing, and backpacking which I hope to do while abroad!
I think that having the opportunity to experience a completely different culture will broaden my perspectives and help me better understand my own identities.
Learning about Leona Zaharis's story was very inspiring, and I want to be able to explore the world just like she did. Her story and experiences are a reminder to get out of my comfort zone and to always strive for growth. I am very grateful for this scholarship and the opportunities it will give me while abroad in Norway!”
To help more University of Iowa students go abroad, make a gift today!
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.